About

Hi. I’m Professor of Politics and Affiliated Professor of Law at New York University, and Director of the Public Safety Lab. I have served as Chair of NYU’s Department of Politics and as Interim Dean of NYU’s Graduate School of Arts and Science.

My CV can be downloaded here. My email is anna [dot] harvey [at] nyu. My mailing address is Department of Politics, New York University, 19 W. 4th St., New York, NY 10012. My office number is 308.

I founded the Public Safety Lab in June 2017 to provide data science and social science support to communities and law enforcement agencies seeking to reform their criminal justice practices. We are currently working with several jurisdictions on projects that include: estimating the effect of financial incentives on traffic safety enforcement; assessing the effect of assigning 911 calls involving mental health issues to a medical response team as opposed to a law enforcement response team; estimating the presence of racial bias in 911 call response; developing a randomized controlled trial of a platform that pushes an SMS-based survey to 911 callers, asking them to rate their experience of the police response; assessing the effects on recidivism of the use of prosecutorial discretion to reduce punishment for minor offenses; estimating the effect of the length of pretrial detention in over 1,000 largely rural county jails on recidivism; assessing the effect of urban school district calendars on the risk of sex trafficking of high school-age girls, and estimating the effect of appellate judge reelection and reappointment calendars on their rulings in criminal appeals.

In the first paper to come out of my Public Safety Lab work, my coauthors and I address concerns about “policing for profit,” or the deployment of law enforcement resources to raise funds for cash-strapped jurisdictions. Identifying the causal effect of fiscal incentives on law enforcement behavior has remained elusive. Researchers have given little theoretical attention to the potentially confounding responses of potential offenders to increased revenue-seeking by law enforcers. Moreover, empirical designs have not effectively addressed the endogeneity of the spatial and temporal variation in fiscal incentives to factors that may directly affect law enforcement or offender behavior. We model the effects of fiscal incentives on traffic safety enforcement, finding that rules allocating a greater share of fine revenues to deploying jurisdictions may induce increased enforcement effort by patrol officers, and consequent reductions in unsafe driving behavior, with only indeterminate effects on the frequency of citations. We test this model using daily, monthly, and fully aggregated citation and accident data from Saskatchewan, Canada between 1990 and 2017, for towns policed under the province’s contract with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. We find that fiscal rules reducing the share of fine revenue captured by the province in jurisdictions above a sharply defined population threshold increase the frequency and severity of accidents in jurisdictions just above this threshold, have no or even weakly positive effects on the frequency of citations in these jurisdictions, increase the time drivers are given to pay their fines, and decrease the likelihood of late or nonpayment of fines. These results are robust to the use of both data-driven regression discontinuity and local randomization inference strategies. We observe no discontinuities in the accident data at this threshold during the period prior to the introduction of these fiscal rules, in the areas “near” these jurisdictions, within which the province receives 100% of fine revenue throughout our period of interest, or at any of 20 placebo thresholds constructed on either side of the actual population threshold.

In two Public Safety Lab projects on 911 calls, we are looking at the process by which 911 calls are first triaged into medical or law enforcement responses, and then are further assigned call and priority codes by 911 call takers. These initial discretionary decisions made by call takers may have large impacts on outcomes. They may also be inflected by call taker biases that are activated by information reported by callers. Working with several large urban jurisdictions, we are sourcing several years of the original audio files of 911 callers and call takers, records of call takers’ coding decisions, Computer Assisted Dispatch records of the response to calls, and Record Management System records of call outcomes. Using the as-if random assignment of calls to call takers, we are initially investigating two questions: 1) is there any evidence of racial bias in the handling of 911 calls by call takers, and if so, what effects does that bias have on call outcomes? 2) what is the effect of a medical response, relative to a law enforcement response, on call outcomes involving mental health issues?

In a related Public Safety Lab project, we are conducting a field experiment of a platform that sends a one-question text survey to 911 callers whose call has been answered by a large urban policing agency. The goal of the project is to assess whether providing an opportunity for those who interact with law enforcement to provide feedback on their experience can move both civilian and officer behavior in a more constructive direction. The text survey asks callers to report a rating between 1-10 for how they feel they were treated by responding officers. If a caller responds to the survey, she is sent a follow-up link to a longer survey asking for more detailed feedback on the agency’s response. Patrol officers are given access to an online dashboard reporting not only the average survey ratings for calls to which they responded, but also average survey ratings for other officers in their unit. In the field experiment, we are manipulating several aspects of the platform, and using both survey and administrative data to estimate treatment effects. For example, we are estimating the effect of receiving the text survey on caller behavior, using administrative records of subsequent calls from that phone number. We are also estimating the effect on officer behavior of receiving access to the survey ratings, using both pre- and post-treatment survey ratings and administrative records of the calls to which an officer responds. 

The Public Safety Lab is also working with the office of the District Attorney of New York County (DANY) to evaluate the effects of the office’s recent reforms directed at reducing prosecutions for subfelony offenders. These reforms include strategies such as issuing a criminal summons instead of pursuing arrest and prosecution for a range of violation-level offenses. While this particular reform has dramatically reduced the office’s workload, questions remain about its effects on offender behavior. Do offenders subject to the policy reform reoffend more often, and/or escalate to more serious offending, as a consequence of the reduced threat of punishment for offending? Or do they reoffend less often, and/or deescalate repeat offending, as a consequence of the reduced disruption of their work and family lives enabled by the reform? Using both a series of temporal and geographic discontinuities created by the reform’s implementation, as well as the as-if random assignment of assistant district attorneys to subfelony cases, we are pursuing answers to these questions.

Several recent papers have used the as-if random assignment of bail judges to cases to estimate the effect of bail conditions on pretrial detention, and then the instrumented effect of pretrial detention on recidivism. These papers have reported compelling evidence that pretrial detention increases reoffending, most likely through some combination of the economic and social disruption and peer effects resulting from detention. However, these studies have all used case data from the same small number of large urban jurisdictions that can support the empirical strategy of as-if random assignment of bail judges to cases. Very little is known about the vast majority of pretrial detainees being held in largely rural and less populated county jails. Over 1,000 of these jails post their daily jail rosters online. In another Public Safety Lab project, we are crawling these rosters and creating a defendant- and jail-level dataset on pretrial detention in these counties. We are also searching for counties that provide online access to criminal case and incarceration records, crawling these records, and merging them at the defendant level with the crawled jail rosters. Using these data, along with daily variation in jail capacity as an instrument, we will estimate the effects of pretrial detention on outcomes across a much broader range of jurisdictions than has previously been possible.

In another project from the Public Safety Lab, we are using urban public school calendars to find girls who are being trafficked for sex. Using the very large corpus of online sex ads and reviews of sex providers posted between 2010 and 2017, and structured data extracted from the text of these ads and reviews, we are looking for telephone numbers that are systematically more likely to be posted on days when high school-aged girls are out of school, but adults are typically at work (e.g., teacher “planning days”). Our working hypothesis is that these ads are likely to be posted by or on behalf of minor girls, potentially by traffickers. Using these ads as “ground truth,” we are then looking to identify features of these ads that can be used to predict the presence of potentially trafficked minor girls in the full corpus of ads and reviews.

Another Public Safety Lab project involves assessing whether appellate judges treat some criminal defendants differently as a function of their retention calendars. Previous work has been limited to looking at judges (typically trial judges) who are either elected or appointed, and then drawing inferences across these different judges about the relative effects of election and appointment on outcomes. In this project, we look at New York State’s intermediate appellate judges, who are both elected and appointed (they must be elected, and repeatedly reelected, to be eligible to be appointed, and then repeatedly reappointed, by the state’s governor). Using structured data extracted from the crawled corpus of New York State appellate division rulings on criminal appeals between 2003 and 2017, we are analyzing the within-judge effects of both reelection and reappointment on appellate rulings. Further, using information on defendant race, gender, and offense extracted from the slip opinions, we are estimating whether reelection and/or reappointment effects vary as a function of defendant characteristics.

In my non-Public Safety Lab work I am currently co-authoring a casebook on judicial decisionmaking (appropriately entitled, Judicial Decisionmaking (West Publishing, 2019)) with Andrew Martin (Michigan), Tom Clark (Emory), Maggie Lemos (Duke Law), Allison Larsen (William and Mary Law), and Barry Friedman (NYU Law). The casebook integrates both social science and legal approaches to understanding how judges decide cases.

Another current project, joint with Emily A. West (University of Pittsburgh), investigates discrimination in public accommodations. Identification difficulties have to date precluded the estimation of causal effects from statutes prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations. We leverage the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1883 strike of the public accommodations provisions in the Civil Rights Act of 1875, along with ex ante variation in state-level statutes, to identify the impact of a federal statute protecting access to public accommodations. Using repeated geo-located medical exams of Union Army and U.S. Colored Troops veterans, and a series of geographic regression discontinuity and placebo designs, we find that the Court’s ruling led to large relative weight losses for USCT veterans in states without state-level public accommodation statutes. These findings suggest that, despite popular skepticism about the importance of discrimination in public accommodations, this form of discrimination in fact has material negative impacts on the well-being of its victims, and that statutes prohibiting such discrimination can mitigate these impacts.

A third project investigates the causal impact of money in elections. One article in this project uses the Supreme Court’s ruling in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) to identify the causal impact of removing state limits on campaign spending. The Supreme Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence rests on a distinction between spending restrictions (generally struck) and contribution restrictions (often upheld). In Buckley v. Valeo (1976), the case originating this distinction, the majority rejected an “anti-distortion” rationale for spending restrictions, claiming that campaign spending is merely an effect of candidate support, not a cause of candidate support. If this claim is true, then removing restrictions on campaign spending should have no discernible causal impacts. This article tests the Buckley majority’s empirical claim using its own ruling, which struck limits on campaign spending in state elections in 26 states. Estimates consistently suggest that the Buckley-induced removal of state limits on campaign spending led to increased Republican voteshares, increased Republican candidate entry, and decreased Democratic candidate entry in state legislative and gubernatorial elections in states affected by the ruling, and to both increased Republican House voteshares and the election of more conservative freshman Republican House incumbents in states both affected by the ruling and holding concurrent federal and state elections. These findings suggest that the rationale for the core distinction in the Supreme Court’s campaign finance jurisprudence has little empirical foundation.

Another campaign finance paper looks at the causal impact of Citizens United v. FEC (2010)A prominent claim in the popular press is that wealthy donors have purchased the election of economically conservative legislators in order to protect donor wealth (e.g. Mayer 2016). The campaign finance literature has, however, struggled to identify causal effects from money in elections. Extending recent work by Klumpp et al (2016), we leverage the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens United v. FEC (2010) to achieve causal identification. Estimates consistently suggest that the Citizens United-induced removal of state bans on independent spending by corporations and unions led to increased conservatism among newly elected Republican state legislators, and to decreased per capita state expenditures on redistribution. These estimates, which are robust to a series of matching and placebo exercises, may provide support for the claim that campaign money has the net effect of shifting outcomes in a more conservative direction.

In The Civil Rights Cases (1883), Buckley v. Valeo (1976), and Citizens United (2010), unelected judges struck federal statutes enacted by legislative majorities; legislative supermajorities are required to overturn these rulings. In another project I investigate the historical origins of this form of “entrenched” judicial review. Among those current democracies that were former colonies, the presence of entrenched judicial review is strongly associated with pre-colonial histories of marked inequality, a finding consistent with the hypothesis that entrenched judicial review was adopted at least in part to preserve pre-colonial inequality from legislative redistribution.

Yet unelected judges are not necessarily unresponsive to legislative preferences. In the U.S., federal judges serve only on the condition of good behavior, and congressional majorities control judicial salaries, budgets, and jurisdiction. In A Mere Machine: The Supreme Court, Congress, and American Democracy (Yale University Press, 2013), I reported evidence indicating that, even in constitutional cases, the U.S. Supreme Court defers to congressional preferences, in particular to the preferences of majorities in the House of Representatives (the chamber that originates both impeachment and appropriations actions). To view an interview about A Mere Machine on CSPAN’s Book TV, click here.

In order to generate the findings reported in A Mere Machine, several methodological challenges had to be addressed. These challenges included constructing an objectively defined measure of the ideological direction of Supreme Court judgments, the initial work for which was done jointly with Michael J. Woodruff (former NYU Politics PhD student). They also included addressing the selection bias in the Court’s docket, the early work for which was done jointly with Barry Friedman (NYU Professor of Law) (here and here). Other work on the responsiveness of the Supreme Court to congressional preferences may be found here and here.

In earlier work I investigated the proposition that partisanship may be modeled as a social convention, providing social benefits to in-group members (and social penalties to out-group members). Electoral laws that make partisan acts more public (e.g. party registration) or less public (e.g. secret ballots; party primaries rather than caucuses) will then affect the ability of neighbors to coordinate on local party social conventions, a hypothesis for which there is empirical support.

This work on partisanship as a social convention grew out of my first major project, which investigated the competition to mobilize women’s votes after constitutional female suffrage. In Votes without Leverage: Women in American Electoral Politics, 1920-1970 (Cambridge University Press, Series on the Political Economy of Institutions and Decisions, 1998), I suggested that, if there is a significant social component to turnout and partisanship, then competition to mobilize votes through social networks will be much like competition to mobilize consumers of services offered through networks (e.g., telephone networks). Markets for networked services are generally marked by imperfect competition, with early entrants having significant advantages over later entrants. Likewise, the decision by the National League of Women Voters (the former female suffrage organization) in 1923 to cede the market in women’s votes to the party organizations may have followed from its necessarily late entry into this imperfectly competitive market. Votes Without Leverage built on articles published here and here. A post on Vox in honor of the 100th anniversary of Jeannette Rankin’s 1917 swearing-in as the first woman to join the House of Representatives may be found here.